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(authors icon)1918

Rescue of Joshua Glover, a Runaway Slave

from Leading Events of Wisconsin History
by Henry E. Legler   1898

Joshua Glover


The Glover episode became a celebrated case elsewhere than in Wisconsin; here it stirred public excitement to fever pitch and profoundly affected the course of future events in politics. Joshua Glover was a runaway slave, who sought asylum in Racine in the early part of the year 1854. Racine was a way station on the route of the underground railway, and the abolition sentiment had made considerable headway among its people. The colored slave found employment in a mill. Learning his whereabouts, the Missouri master of the slave, one B. S. Garland, procured a process in the United States District court and proceeded to Glover's shanty in company with two deputy United States marshals. Glover was in his little shanty engaged in playing cards when his master and the marshals surprised him by their appearance. He jumped up, and as he resisted arrest, one of the deputies knocked him down with a club and leveled a pistol at his head, while the others handcuffed him. In the words of Sherman M. Booth, whose subsequent connection with the case gave him national notoriety, the slave "was knocked down and handcuffed, dumped mangled and bleeding into a democrat wagon, and with a marshal's foot on his neck taken to Milwaukee and thrust into the county jail."

Glover resists


Pursuit having been anticipated, the officers made their way to Milwaukee by a circuitous route. The alarm had been given, however, and it was soon learned that a negro accused of fleeing from his slave pen had been incarcerated in the jail at Milwaukee. When a hundred determined men landed by boat from Racine, formed in line and marched toward the jail, public excitement in Milwaukee grew intense. Great crowds congregated about the county jail and gathered in the grounds adjacent to the courthouse. There a great indignation meeting was held that ended in the storming of the jail and the rescue of Glover. Sherman M. Booth, editor of The Free Democrat, who took a leading part in the courthouse meeting, according to popular account of the affair rode up and down the streets on a white horse summoning the people to gather, shouting the rallying cry: "Freemen, to the rescue!" Mr. Booth, in a recent address, denied many of the statements that have remained unchallenged for more than forty years. He said that he did not shout "Freemen, to the rescue!" and that he never advised the forcible rescue of Glover. What he did say was: "All freemen who are opposed to being made slaves or slave-catchers turn out to a meeting in the courthouse square at 2 o'clock!" Ringing resolutions were adopted insisting on the slave's right to a writ of habeas corpus and a trial by jury. A local judge issued such a writ, but the refusal of the federal officers to recognize its validity led to the battering in of the jail doors.

Sherman Booth

Glover's rescue gave rise to many legal complications and a great deal of litigation. The sheriff of Racine county arrested the slave-master and those who had aided in the capture of the fugitive, on a charge of assault. Garland obtained his release on a writ of habeas corpus. In the meantime the underground railway had conveyed the slave to Canada. Booth was arrested and a grand jury found a bill of indictment against him and two others. He appealed to the Supreme court for a writ of habeas corpus. The learned judges read long opinions declaring the Fugitive Slave law of 1850 unconstitutional.

"They will never consent," Judge Smith declared, in referring to the right of the states in the enforcement of the law, "that a slave-owner, his agent, or an officer of the United States, armed with process to arrest a fugitive from service, is clothed with entire immunity from state authority; to commit whatever crime or outrage against the laws of the state; that their own high prerogative writ of habeas corpus shall be annulled, their authority defied, their officers resisted, the process of their own courts contemned, their territory invaded by federal force, the houses of their citizens searched, the sanctuary or their homes invaded, their streets and public places made the scenes of tumultuous and armed violence, and state sovereignty succumb--paralyzed and aghast--before the process of an officer unknown to the constitution and irresponsible to its sanctions. At least, such shall not become the degradation of Wisconsin, without meeting as stern remonstrance and resistance as I may be able to interpose, so long as her people impose upon me the duty of guarding their rights and liberties, and maintaining the dignity and sovereignty of their state."

In his speech before the United States court commissioner, Winfield Smith, Booth defended himself vigorously. He denied that he had counseled or aided in the escape of the runaway slave, but he made no secret of his sympathy with the feelings of the mob that forced the jail.

Sherman Booth

"I am frank to say," he declared with emphasis--"and the prosecution may make the most of it--that I sympathize with the rescuers of Glover and rejoice at his escape. I rejoice that, in the first attempt of the slave-hunters to convert our jail into a slave-pen and our citizens into slave-catchers, they have signally failed, and that it has been decided by the spontaneous uprising and sovereign voice of the people, that no human being can be dragged into bondage from Milwaukee. And I am bold to say that, rather than have the great constitutional rights and safeguards of the people--the writ of habeas corpus and the right of trial by jury--stricken down by this fugitive law, I would prefer to see every federal officer in Wisconsin hanged on a gallows fifty cubits higher than Haman's."

Before the Supreme court, Byron Paine made an argument in behalf of Booth that attracted attention all over the country. It was printed in pamphlet form and circulated on the streets of Boston by the thousands. Charles Sumner and Wendell Phillips wrote the author letters of hearty approval and commended his force of logic and able presentation of argument. This pamphlet is now excessively rare; but half a dozen copies are now known to exist.

Byron Paine

Booth was discharged from imprisonment by the Supreme court on the ground of irregularities in the warrant. This did not end the case. The United States Supreme court reversed the action of the state court. Booth and John Rycraft were tried in January, 1855, for violation of the act and were found guilty. The sentences imposed were:

Sherman M. Booth--Imprisonment in the county jail one month, a fine of $1,000 and the costs of prosecution.

John Rycraft--Imprisonment for ten days; fine of $200 without costs.

The owner of the rescued slave also brought suit against Booth for the value of Glover and obtained judgment in the United States District court for $1,000, representing the value of a negro slave as fixed by the act of congress passed in 1850. It is said that the litigation in which Booth became entangled as the result of the Glover episode ruined him financially. The Glover episode and attendant circumstances were potent factors in creating an abolition sentiment in Wisconsin. In 1857 the legislature enacted a law "to prevent kidnaping," its purpose being to prevent the capture of fugitive slaves seeking asylum in this state.

Sherman Booth

Legler, Henry E. Leading Events of Wisconsin History. Milwaukee: Sentinel, 1898. 226-229.
In the UW-Madison Memorial Library reference stacks: F 581 L4.